The Grievers by Mark Schuster. Publisher: The Permanent Press (May 2012). Literary fiction. Hardcover. 176 pages. 978-1-57962-263-3.
“ . . . my life has been marked by short, random bursts of inspiration and activity, followed by extended periods of coasting, disenchantment, boredom, lethargy, and eventually, surrender.”
Fairly quickly into Mark Schuster’s debut novel, The Singular Exploits of Wonder Mom & Party Girl, I became enamored of Schuster’s dark humor, wit and stellar usage of the written word. His second novel, The Grievers, while dealing with completely different subject matter—a suicide—contains the edginess and writing skills that made me both envy and admire this young author. In his first novel, Schuster satirized soccer moms. In The Grievers, he tackles wayward twenty-something’s.
When a former classmate kills himself, a group of friends begins to analyze their own lives and their connection to their downtrodden classmate. Charley Schwartz agrees to arrange a memorial service for a high school classmate who killed himself. Honestly Charley remembers little about Billy except that he was his lab partner. At the moment, Charley’s working a throwaway part-time job—ever wonder who those people are who dress up in weird costumes to hand out fliers?– and thinking about finishing his master’s degree. His wife wants to have a child which adds pressure and a bit of a crimp to his meandering post-grad lifestyle.
Schuster compiles a very solid characterization of that existential twenty-something quest to figure out the who, what, where, why and how for happiness. Charley and his friends behave like children in grown-up bodies. Reflecting on their classmates Billy’s death makes them consider their own accomplishments, goals, mortality. Things they’d rather put little thought into at this time of their lives. A sleek novel with a snappy tempo, The Grievers is sad funny, understandable funny, been-there funny and cringe funny. That’s why it’s such a marvelous read.
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